What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I think right now publishers are playing it safe and looking for titles along the lines of books that are already working. So in women’s fiction, that would be writers like Jojo Moyes and Liane Moriarty, who are writing plot-driven books with great characters and lots of heart. The Rosie Project is another good example. And I think on the slightly more literary side, quirky books about families are working right now, which is gratifying, titles like Where’d You Go Bernadette, The Vacationers and We Are Not Ourselves.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I would love another novel which straddles a line between women’s fiction and suspense, like the upcoming The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford, which Morrow will publish in 2015. And more high-concept women’s fiction with plot and heart, like The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman. And also adult fiction that has fantasy elements without being genre fiction, like The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. I like anything quirky, fun, anything with lots of emotion and true affection for the characters within, and I also like superdark stuff, like Gillian Flynn, Mo Hayder and Tana French.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I don’t like to rule anything out, I really don’t. I have very democratic tastes. I represent everything from the wonderful vampire romances of New York Times best-selling author Lynsay Sands to the broad and wacky humor of Robin O’Bryant (Ketchup is a Vegetable), Laurie Notaro (The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club) and Nicole Knepper (Moms Who Drink and Swear) to best-selling women’s fiction like The Life List to historical fiction like The Ghost Bride and the upcoming Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran to sophisticated, edgy young-adult titles by authors like Shannon Greenland, Sandra Waugh, A.G. Howard and Lynn Weingarten.
What is unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I started my agency in 2009, which was a really, really dark time in the publishing industry. Print sales were way down and e-book sales were not yet making up for the loss in a significant way. Lots of layoffs were occurring at the publishing houses, and no one really knew what was going to happen—things looked very bleak. I like to think that shows that I have a real optimism and positivity about the world of books and publishing. I try to have that positive attitude permeate all the business that we do at TBA.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My personal mantra, which is: Never give up. That holds true for both writers and agents! Laurie Notaro tried for seven years to get her first book, The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club, published by a traditional publisher. This was back in the late ’90s, before e-books were an option, so she self-published via print on demand. I found the book on Amazon, sold it to Random House, and the book debuted on the New York Times best-seller list! If Laurie had given up in the face of seven years of rejection, none of this would have ever happened.
Jenny Bent was born in New York City but grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in a house full of books, where she spent many lazy afternoons reading in a sunny window seat. She went on to England to get a BA/MA with first-class honors from Cambridge University but began her career in publishing as an undergraduate, with jobs at Rolling Stone and Ladies’ Home Journal. She then worked with prominent agent Raphael Sagalyn and with Michael Cader, the force behind the website Publishers Marketplace, before establishing a successful career at several boutique agencies. In 2003, she joined Trident Media Group, where she was promoted to vice president before leaving to found the Bent Agency in 2009. She now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment full of books, and while there are not quite so many lazy reading afternoons, she manages to fit one in now and then.